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Cannon Air Force Base: Flyovers no ‘significant’ impact

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Posted: Thursday, September 8, 2011 9:47 am | Updated: 10:46 pm, Tue Sep 20, 2011.

Cannon Air Force Base issued the first draft of its environmental assessment for its proposed low-altitude training flights, saying that it found no "significant" environmental impacts for the areas of New Mexico and Colorado earmarked as training locales.

The 214-page document published on Cannon's website comes almost exactly a year since the base first announced its intention to conduct an estimated three flights a day to train pilots of tilt-rotor MC- 130J and CV-22 aircraft (commonly called "Hercules" and "Osprey" aircraft, respectively).

Many of the trainings would occur at night. Carol Miller, an organizer from Taos' Peaceful Skies Coalition, said the finding was proof that the decision was made to put the training program in New Mexico skies.

"How is it possible that the Air Force did not find one single problem?" Miller said in an email. "That is impossible and shows what a sham and mockery the [National Environmental Protection Agency] process has become."

Among the concerns raised by Taoseños in the past year, the draft addressed airspace management, noise, safety and air quality - saying that none of the issues would be impacted enough to stop the proposed missions.

With the draft published, Cannon will again open a 60-day public comment period that will include local visits to areas within the training area. Cannon said comments will be included in the final draft of the assessment.

As far as noise goes, the draft said that a flight configuration for both types of aircraft were staged in a computer model for study, and that the analysis used "twice the average flight activity" expected for the missions and that the computer model "yields noise estimates that are higher than the noise levels anticipated to occur during most low altitude training flights."

From the computer model, the noise levels were mathematically calculated, the draft said, at less than 35 decibels.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifies levels exceeding 55 decibels as the standard to require an assessment for the affect on public welfare. Even at a training altitude of 500- 1,00 feet, Cannon contends few people would be disturbed by the noise, especially since the proposed area is several thousand square miles.

"The average number of times per year that a person sleeping would be awakened by an overflight was calculated based on the frequency of late-night noise events with the strongest potential to awaken sleepers," the draft reads. "Persons in a residence at any given location under the proposed training area and outside an avoidance area, assuming twice the average flying activity, could be awakened once per year, on average, if windows were open and once per two years if windows were closed."

The draft emphasized that "mission planning would make sure that flights were dispersed so that the same location was not overflown more than once per day."

On the subject of safety, the draft stated that aircraft would likely not "dump fuel" over any given area - unless there was an emergency.

"If an emergency requiring a fuel dump were to occur, the aircraft would climb to an altitude greater than 2,000 feet above the highest obstacle within five miles prior to initiating the dump," the draft reads. "At this altitude, the vast majority of dumped fuel would vaporize prior to reaching the ground."

The draft also claimed that by EPA standards, the air pollution emitted during trainings would have a "less than significant impact."

"The pollutant with the greatest emissions in the proposed training area, Nitrogen Oxide, would be approximately 42 tons per year, which is well below the applicable Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) threshold of 250 tons per year," the draft reads.

Nitrogen Oxide, according to a study on the impacts of the substance published by the EPA, eventually forms nitric oxide, a compound that is produced during combustion found during lightning or in an engine.

Over time, nitric acid can bond with atmospheric moisture, causing acid rain.

Finally, the draft addressed Taos' concerns that potential vibrations from the flights could pose structural damage to the ancient buildings at Taos Pueblo.

The studies conducted to determine the "aircraft noise induced vibration" compared structures at the Pueblo to those of the Long House Anasazi site dating to the year 1300 A.D.

The numbers for that study came from B-52 overflight at 590 feet, which was still "below the threshold value by a factor of approximately five." "The proposed flights would not be expected to result in induced vibrations with potential to damage ancient stone structures," the draft said.

Even if the numbers are below the government standards, that doesn't make the trainings OK, Miller said, and it is testing her faith in the EPA.

"(The National Environmental Protection Agency) is a servant of the military not the savior of the environment it was designed to be when enacted," Miller said.

When the coalition holds its public meeting Sept. 15, she said the Air Force is in for an earful.

"I believe the Air Force will hear loud and clear that the public is not going to take this obscene decision lightly. We are going to hold our elected "representatives" accountable for their funding of this wasteful, unethical and environmentally dangerous plan," Miller said. "New Mexico wants to remain the land of enchantment, not become New Mexistan with intrusive flying and spying over our heads every night."




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  • LL posted at 5:56 pm on Wed, Sep 14, 2011.

    LL Posts: 2

    The draft states that studies conducted to determine aircraft noise induced vibration would not be expected to result in induced vibrations with potential to damage ancient stone structures. No mention was made of the potential to damage ancient adobe (not stone) structures, such as ancient adobe pueblo structures, or modern adobe structures such as homes.

  • Dave posted at 8:20 pm on Mon, Sep 12, 2011.

    Dave Posts: 25

    I just downloaded the Environmental Assessment and noticed that the proposed training area boundaries were moved to avoid large populated areas. In fact, the LATN area no longer includes Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Taos, Taos Pueblo or Alamosa. This is a significant change.

    Also only 10% of the training flights will be as low as 300 to 500 feet. Half of the sorties flight times will be at over 1000 feet.

    While the Peaceful Skies folks are against any military training which they call "war practice", I think the Air Force is making a real effort to address the concerns of most New Mexicans.

    I recommend everyone who is concerned about this issue, download and read the EA and submit your comments to the Air Force.

  • PB posted at 7:29 pm on Sat, Sep 10, 2011.

    PB Posts: 169

    Sure theres no impact at all for you who dont even live here! These are among the most un-airworthy aircraft the military flies, prone to crashing and releasing fuel into the air and on land. The long term impacts are simply not known and more study is needed by an unbiased outside party. I dont believe the military's study is either fair or complete. The "facts" are the ones the military wants us to swallow, generated by their own "tests". I dont buy it.


  • Drivenon9 posted at 12:00 pm on Sat, Sep 10, 2011.

    Drivenon9 Posts: 1

    Sure I to could do random online searches supporting what I would perceive as 'dangers' to the local area. Things like loose dogs and the harm to wildlife and natural ecosystems...how about the saddening dropout rate of H.S. students and the non engagement of parents and it's effect on community economy. I appreciate the 'one love, one people' attitude of the upcoming attendees as they cry, would you not consider the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? Do you really think they will be buzzing the Pueblo like a video game..really?

  • Rufus posted at 11:00 am on Sat, Sep 10, 2011.

    Rufus Posts: 2

    Extremely small price to pay for giving our military the resources and training capabilities they need to do their job, which is protecting us. Peaceful Skies needs to get over it, the chopshop motorcycles touring the enchanted lands here rattle more hippie windchimes than these flights ever will.

  • tomas posted at 3:01 pm on Fri, Sep 9, 2011.

    tomas Posts: 14

    Anyone compared the estimated noise of the proposed flights to that of all of the &*%#! motorcycles that otherwise rationale people are in love with, and the rest of us have to listen to ad nauseum?

  • milman posted at 2:25 pm on Fri, Sep 9, 2011.

    milman Posts: 9

    This is like asking the fox if being allowed to walk through the hen house poses a significant problem for the hens.

    Of course, the Air Force will create a finding of no significant impact. It's all in the meaning of "significant."

    To a computer model, the noise - - any noise - - is insignificant. To a person who may be sleeping, reading, walking, thinking, the noise will be significant.

    I suspect the meaning of significant will be determined in court.

  • RedStateDave posted at 7:08 am on Fri, Sep 9, 2011.

    RedStateDave Posts: 103

    Carol Miller likes to think she speaks for the majority but she's over-estimating her self importance by a long shot. She certainly doesn't speak for me. I have no problems with the proposed flights and have registered my support repeatedly and will continue to do so. Funny how some of the "enlightened" class around here throw fits when the facts don't support their rhetoric. Environmental extremist like to tout EPA decisions when those decisions fit the enviro agenda but immediately claim suspicion when they do the opposite. Compromise here is not a bad thing, Ms. Miller.

  • llano_dog posted at 5:24 pm on Thu, Sep 8, 2011.

    llano_dog Posts: 1

    I think it a basic commitment to truth for those who declare this decision "obscene" to provide equally definitive objective evidence for their opposition. I have had CV-22s fly directly over my home and have been impressed with how quiet they are. Our airmen need to train and if they do so as un-intrusively as I have witnessed they should lauded not accused by paranoidal anti-anything having to do with the military fears of being spied on. Good grief. Whoever this Miller person is, she should be thanking the crews flying these missions.

  • Fred posted at 1:47 pm on Thu, Sep 8, 2011.

    Fred Posts: 1

    My family and I live 10 miles south of Cannon AFB, directly under the flight path of these and other aircraft. They have caused no damage, disturbance or inconvenience to us or anyone we know. Once again, when the facts don't back up the hysteria over an issue, the messenger gets shot. If the EPA had ruled the other way, there would have been a whole other story of triumph and praise for the EPA. I think there will be more noise eminating from the September 15 meeting than these aircraft could ever generate.

  • mikeyg19 posted at 12:25 pm on Thu, Sep 8, 2011.

    mikeyg19 Posts: 1

    Peaceful Skies Coalition does not speak for myself of many other Taosenos. Please call or E-mail your representative and let them know the Proposed flyovers are welcomed in Northern New Mexico.